(Supreme Court of the Philippines}

(Supreme Court of the Philippines}

MANILA (Mabuhay) – In a development that surprised reporters covering the Supreme Court, the tribunal’s public information office on Tuesday barred live coverage of a briefing.

Before the start of the regular Tuesday media briefing at the SC, an SC PIO staff member requested broadcast journalists not to air the event live.

He said he was told by SC PIO chief and spokesman Theodore Te that he would not start the briefing until the “cables used for live TV broadcast are pulled.”

Even radio reporters were requested not to air the briefing live.

Asked by reporters on this development, Te said, “The court has never allowed  live coverage of its proceedings and I read that to include the press conference.”

Te claimed that it has been his policy ever since taking over the SC PIO in January 2013 not to allow media briefing to be aired live. Broadcast media outfits, however, have been airing the briefings live many times in the past, without Te calling out the media’s attention to it.

But Te, on Tuesday, insisted that he had “never allowed” the briefings to be aired live.

“I have never said it. So if you were filming it live then you were filming without permission,” he said. “I don’t know where you got the idea that I would allow it live.”

Live coverages during SC media briefings under Te’s predecessor, former spokesman and incumbent Court Administrator Midas Marquez, were not uncommon.

Sought for comment on Te’s live coverage ban, Marquez told GMA News Online: “I think that is his policy now.”

The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility said it is looking into the SC PIO’s policy.

Not an SC rule

An hour after Tuesday’s media briefing, Te texted reporters explaining his new policy and admitted that barring live coverage of press briefings “is not a rule of the Supreme Court.”

“[But] it’s part of how this PIO understands its role in presenting the court’s message requirements,” Te said.

He also admitted that the live coverage ban is “not absolute,” citing as examples briefings on the en banc sessions in Baguio last April, Bar exam results, and the decision on the constitutionality of the pork barrel that were aired live in the past.

“My understanding from the start when I took over was live coverage was an exception; and the record is clear when requests have have been made, they have never been denied,” Te said.

Te also implored the media to “revisit how the SC is covered as a beat.”

“It is not and should not be treated in the same way as the political departments because there really is no breaking news all the time as far as SC is concerned,” he said.

Among the announcements made by Te during Tuesday’s media briefing were about the SC’s actions on petitions on the Disbursement Acceleration Program, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, Panfilo Lacson’s appointment as rehabilitation czar, and a controversial new Bureau of Internal Revenue policy for professionals, as well as updates on the high court’s probe on alleged influence-peddling in the Court of Appeals and the SC.

It was the first time the Supreme Court en banc resumed its sessions since taking more than a month of decision-writing break.

Reporters surprised

The live coverage bar came as a surprise to reporters covering the justice beat, especially since Te—ever since becoming chief PIO—has been at the forefront of making the SC and its proceedings more accessible to the public.

It was under Te’s PIO leadership where the SC website (sc.judiciary.gov.ph) underwent a major revamp, from having a total make-over of the site design to introducing micro-sites for important and high-profile cases that contain digital copies of petitions, resolutions, case background and guidelines.

Perhaps the best reform toward making the high court more accessible to the public was the introduction on the SC website of livestreaming and podcast or audio recordings of the traditionally banned-for-broadcast oral arguments. This allowed people to monitor SC debates through the Internet.

Even public interviews by the Judicial and Bar Council have been made available for livestreaming during Te’s leadership. His YouTube page also became more active, with videos of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno’s messages and interviews of resource persons on oral arguments being uploaded on its page. (MNS)